Originally published: https://www.pakistantribe.com/47700/decline-fall-muslim-intellect-fatima-altaf
For great minds, the world provides ample food for thought. The weaker ones are merely engrossed in thoughts of food. Unfortunately, we, the Muslims, have become the latter. From Pakistanis and Arabs to most muslims belonging to Asia and the Middle East, it appears that thoughts of food have swallowed all thirst or craving we had for any kind of food for thought.
Whether we acknowledge it grudgingly or with an open heart, the fact of the matter is that at least the past five centuries have completely belonged to Europe and the Western Civilization. While we muslims slowly shifted our gaze from the stars and cosmos to trivialities and nonsense, and then fell into a deep, deep sleep from which we are not likely to wake up any time soon, the West opened its eyes, looked around and created such miracles as humanity never conceived to be possible. Meanwhile, the most we muslims can do is repeatedly quote how great we used to be. Sadly for us, though, such songs of past glory appear hollow and nonsensical when we have nothing, no contribution whatsoever, to presently offer Humanity.
There is, of course, no doubt that from the 7th to almost the 13th century CE, muslims were the pioneers of knowledge. While Europe slumbered during the Dark Ages, the muslim world thrived with knowledge, scientific research and development. For the first time in the history of humanity, the philosophy of the Greeks was converted into testable theory through adoption of the scientic method . Cities like Baghdad and Cordoba, with their vast libraries, became the epicenters of learning.
Hence emerged great names such as Avicena (Ibn Sina), who wrote approximately 450 books on medicine, physics, astronomy, mathematics, psychology, Islamic philosophy, geometry, etc. and whose renowned work The Cannon of Medicine was used as a textbook in European universities at least till the mid 17th century, Ibn Al Haitham, who gave a detailed structure of the eye and worked upon the nature of light; and others like Ibn Rushd, Al Razi, Al Farabi, etc.
Things, however, started going downhill for the muslims around the 13th century, with the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols, and the Golden Islamic Age finally came to an end with the conquest of Grenada by Ferdinand in the 15th century. In the meanwhile, the Sleeping Beauty of Europe emerged from its slumber. It is certainly ironic that when the Muslim Civilization was declining, Europe experienced a rebirth or Renaissance, following which the world witnessed the industrial revolution in Europe; the invention of machines changed the face of the earth and the course of history forever.
We may blame the West for all our problems, for the wars inflicted on us to terrorism and economic instability, but the truth of the matter is that all the comforts of our daily lives have also been provided by the west. From our household appliances to our computers, phones, mobiles and our cars and other means of transport, every single piece of machinery has either been designed and developed in the West, or under the influence of western scientific research. they may have picked up from where we stopped, but they have come a long way. They reached the moon 50 years ago, and are now about to colonize Mars. As a matter of fact, excluding the powerful few who engaged in illegal invasions and spreading destabilization across the globe, a significant portion of their educated class harbours a love for knowledge, and a spirit and zeal for research and development.
Their love for knowledge can be seen on every street, in buses and in trains, where they are engrossed in books, not wasting time even when travelling. While God forbid that we are ever found holding a book in our hands, unless it is our kids’ textbook! In muslim countries libraries are scarce and bookshops are rare. Our collective intellectual poverty is evident from the fact that we would much rather spend our valuable, hard earned money on shoes or branded kurtas than waste it on books. It is certainly time for some serious introspection: when did this love for things replace our love for knowledge? Moreover, as much as we stuff ourselves with food, it is really no wonder that our intellect is covered under layers of fat! Thus, instead of a “House of Wisdom” (Baghdad, 9th century CE), we now proudly boast Food Streets! Instead of Baghdad, the Intellectual Center of the world, we now have Lahore, the Food Capital of the world.
It is actually not even as much about eating and shopping as it is about culture. We have simply abandoned the culture of knowledge, research and investigation. While in the west, the people may routinely indulge themselves in all these enjoyments, yet they work hard when it’s time to work. They are not indolent and lazy like us. They do not eat more than their bodies require, they work hard and exercise. Their minds are not covered under layers of fat but are free to roam and investigate. They have not killed their curiosity drive through excessive self indulgence and gluttony.
The great Muslim poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal deemed humanity to be a single soul. In his opinion, “western civilization was an extension of muslim civilization, we picked up where the Greeks left off, and the West picked up where we left off. Thus at the end of the day, it is not us or them, it is about we, the collective Humanity – the Children of Adam. Instead of begrudging the west for ‘stealing our ideas’ and taking them much much further, we should think about the contributions we muslims – 1.6 billion of the world’s population – can make towards humanity. It is about time to snap out of this self imposed indolence, laziness and self pity, perhaps the result of centuries long colonization and stagnation, and start putting in our share! And by all means, let’s start with books! Yes, please – pass me that book again!